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Captioning for people with hearing loss

Captioning for people with hearing loss

Captioning is a way to provide communications access to people with hearing loss. Various forms of captioning, including movies, TV, and the internet, ensure that sound information is available to people with hearing loss.

Captioning generally involves the presentation of acoustic information in a textual format. It has much the same look as subtitles on a foreign film. The difference is that the text presents the language that is being spoken (generally English in the US), rather than a translation of a different language.

Captioning can open up a variety of mediums to hard of hearing, late deafened, and oral deaf people. The most common is television. Too few television shows are captioned, but this is the medium in which captioning is most prevalent. Also, thanks to Federal law, the percentage of captioned television content is increasing all the time.

Another captioning application that has a significant impact on the lives of people with hearing loss is Computer Assisted Real Time (CART) Captioning. This is a system in which a captioner transcribes speech word-for-word in real time and makes the text output available to consumers on a laptop or projected onto a large screen.

One of the social activities that many hard of hearing, late deafened, and oral deaf people give up early in their hearing loss career is movies. If a person can’t hear the dialog, a movie isn’t very enjoyable. Fortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of captioned movies, which make movies accessible to people with hearing loss.

What about internet captioning? Because of increasing use of sound, much of the internet may soon become inaccessible to people with hearing loss. This is an extremely important issue, and one we all need to understand.

And another relatively new practice – the captioning of live theater performances!

Imagine having access to captioning any place, any time, in any situation. It’s not quite here yet, but the advent of   Remote Captioning promises something like that in the near future.

September 2011 – U of Oregon moves the bar for athletic facility access

June 2011 – Hearing-Impaired Fans Demand Captions in Stadiums

May 2011 – Deaf football fan sues University of Kentucky to provide captions on scoreboard

March 2011 – Real-Time Speech Recognition Based Closed Captioning – Faster, More Versatile and Less Expensive

March 2011 – Court ruling says Redskins have to caption song lyrics, too

October 2010 – Court Reporters Ready to Help with Closed Captioning for New Disability Act

October 2010 – Captioning Solutions for Handheld Media and Mobile Devices

September 2010 – 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Legislation Passes

January 2010 – Nanci Linke-Ellis on Captioning

January 2010 – Cowboys Stadium Provides Wireless Captioning for Folks with Hearing Loss

December 2009 – Nationwide Captioning Advocacy Organization Launched

July 2009 – Comprompter Unveils All-Purpose Captioning System

June 2009 – ACS Exhibits at HLAA Convention

February 2009 – “C” is for Captions… and Change

February 2009 – Washington State ferries settle lawsuit, will caption announcements

November 2008 – Public Venue Access Coming to Washington State

October 2008 – Court Supports Captioning at Sporting Events

February 2008 – National Park Service to Provide Open Captioning

February 2008 – NCRA Lauds House Bill to Increase Number of Captioners

December 2007 – Canadian Captioning School Opens

November 2007 – Gallaudet Learning System Includes Captions

November 2007 – Captions Coming to Inflight Entertainment

September 2007 – TDI Conference Workshop: Captioning and Audio Description for DVD and Multimedia Environment

August 2007 – WGBH to Develop Captioning for Handheld Media

July 2007 – Court Reporters Face Diminishing Ranks, NCRA Warns

July 2007 – More Captioners Needed

February 2007 – NAD Promotes “Read Captions Across America”

February 2007 – NAD and CaptionMax Cooperate to Provide More Captioned Media

February 2007 – Few DVD players can decode closed captioning

December 2006 – FCC Approves IP Captioned Telephone

December 2006 – FCC Approves IP Captioned Telephone Service

September 2006 – Interview of “Named Plaintiff” in DVD Captioning Case

August 2006 – NAD Files Complaint About Lack of Captioning at Football Games

July 2006 – Guidelines for Creating Accessible Digital Materials Published by WGBH/NCAM


October 2005 – Here’s a great idea for something like universal captioning access using a PDA!

August 2004 – The 2006 captioning requirements are right around the corner. Soon you’ll be able to turn on almost any TV show and have it be captioned, right? It may not be that easy, as we discuss in this analysis of captioners available to meet the 2006 requirements.

October 2003 – The NCRA has just announced a new procedure to certify CART and television captioners.

April 2002 – Have you ever heard of VoiceWriting? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t; it’s pretty new stuff. VoiceWriting is the process of using voice recognition software to produce text from the spoken word, instead of more traditional methods like court reporter machines. My excitement about this new technology is evident in this recent article.

April 2002 – The current critical shortage of captioners seems to have gotten the attention of our national politicians, as Congress recently allocated nearly $6 million to train captioners.

March 2002 – Here’s a great article by Tamar Clarke on the various forms of captioning, with emphasis on CART.

January 2001 – Have you watched a DVD movie yet? If not, chances are you soon will. WIll it have captions – or only subtitles? What’s the difference? Which is better? Read our story on DVD Captions vs. Subtitles.

More on this and related topics



Hearing-Impaired Fans Demand Captions in Stadiums

June 2011

Closed captions are sometimes the only means through which individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can fully access, enjoy and experience entertainment events or broadcasts that the rest of the world may take for granted. Unfortunately, in many cases, these means are denied them. Sports games are just one type of event at which deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are too often neglected and excluded. With all of the commentary, announcements and music projected over loudspeakers for aural consumption, these individuals cannot adequately enjoy the experience of a game without captioned accounts of what others can hear. The issue of making sporting events more accessible to fans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing has received increased attention over the past few years.    Full Story


Deaf football fan sues University of Kentucky to provide captions on scoreboard

May 2011

A deaf University of Kentucky football season ticket holder is suing the school, seeking to force the Wildcats to put closed-captioning on the scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium. The lawsuit filed Wednesday by Charles Mitchell of Lancaster, Ky., is similar to suits brought against Ohio State University and the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Mitchell, who sued in U.S. District Court in Lexington, is seeking an injunction forcing the university to put captions for all game announcements on the scoreboards of the stadium under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against people with disabilities. The lawsuit against Ohio State resulted in a 2010 settlement under which the school will post captions to announcements on the Jumbotron scoreboards. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March upheld a decision requiring the Redskins to provide captioning.  Full Story


Court ruling says Redskins have to caption song lyrics, too

March 2011

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling Friday that requires the Washington Redskins to make game content broadcast over the FedEx Field public address system accessible to deaf fans through captioning — including song lyrics.

“Whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football, we agree with the district court that the music played over the public address system during Redskins home games is part of the football game experience … and that the [Americans with Disabilities Act] requires full and equal access to the music lyrics,” judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the 29-page majority opinion.  Full Story


Game maker  to include subtitles for hearing impaired

September 2008

In order to make games more accessible to the hearing impaired, Ubisoft today announced plans to include subtitles in all internally-developed titles. The first games to support subtitles will be Far Cry 2, Prince of Persia, and Shaun White Snowboarding. “This commitment entails modifications to some of our game engines, as well as the inclusion of subtitles in the conception phase of game development,” said Ubisoft, the world’s sixth largest publisher. Considered one of the most common disabilities, hearing loss is said to affect more than 10 percent of the world’s population.


Some Minnesota Political Ads MUST Be Captioned!

August 2008

Minnesota candidates using radio, television or Web videos to get their messages out will have to back up their ads with text.  A new Minnesota law requires candidates for state-level offices to include closed captioning. It was promoted as a way to help deaf or hard-of-hearing voters access the political content.  The requirement applies to professionally produced ads less than two minutes long and meant to influence voters. Transcripts of radio ads must be posted on the candidate’s Web site.  Viewers have to trigger the closed-caption function on their TV sets to see the new feature.  Most of the ads this election season will be run by candidates for U.S. Senate and the presidency. The captioning law doesn’t apply to them because they operate under federal campaign rules.  Judicial candidates are also exempt.


National Park Service to Provide Open Captioning

February 2008

In a Civil Rights Directive issued January 31, 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the federal agency that runs the national park system and other programs, announced that they will require that all audio-visual media must be open captioned and not closed captioned. They note also that “This in no way negates [their] responsibility to provide assistive listening devices for program participants who are hard of hearing.”

The Directive explains that they opted for open captioning because it “provides the most effective and efficient method of access… Even where close captioned media is available, it has been found that much staff time and effort is often taken to ensure that captioning is turned off and on in a timely manner for participants with disabilities … switches may be easily broken or tampered with causing … non- compliance.”

For a copy of the Directive or questions, please contact Carroll Andre, Chief, Public Civil Rights Division, Office of Civil Rights, US Dept of the Interior, Email carroll_andre@ios.doi.gov or to file an ADA or other civil rights complaint against the US Dept of the Interior, follow instructions on their website.


Court Reporters Face Diminishing Ranks, NCRA Warns

July 2007

Editors: Court reporters and captioners are already in short supply, and the number of practitioners graduating from training programs is on the decline. Here’s the press release from the folks at the National Court Reporters Association.


Court cases like those surrounding Paris Hilton and Scooter Libby are high drama for Americans, but everyday routine for court reporters. As guardians of the spoken word recorded into text, their skills in a litigious society are in growing demand.

But the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) reports a downward trend in the number of court reporters graduating this year from NCRA-certified programs, with only about 350 graduates in 2007, when three times th at number are needed nationwide.

“These highly trained professionals — who are in critically short supply — are uniquely able to capture and convert spoken words into information that can be read, searched and archived,” says Mark Golden, NCRA executive director and CEO. “This specialization has created new career paths, including broadcast captioning and realtime translation services for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.”

According to Reesa Parker, NCRA’s president, the number of schools taking part in NCRA’s certification programs and their graduates have steadily declined over the decade. Almost 1,000 students graduated from more than 100 NCRA-certified schools in 1996. This year, 62 certified programs across the U.S. will graduate fewer than 350 court reporters.

Ironically, work for court reporting graduates is plentiful in government, professional firms or freelancing, with annual earnings often exceeding $70,000, according to an NCRA release. The federal Telecommunications Act also boosted demand for court reporters by mandating large increases in the numbers and types of television broadcasts that must be closed-captioned. Last year, due to the shortage of broadcast captioners, the deadline set by the Act was missed for closed-captioning of all new television programs in English. Millions of hard-of- hearing Americans were left without access to programming and critical emergency information.

To help meet the need for court reporters, NCRA is reaching out to potential students online. In addition, Congress is considering competitive grants to train captioners and reporters who specialize in realtime and Communication Access Realtime Translation. CART provides an immediate translation of all spoken words and environmental sounds for the deaf, hard-of-hearing or those learning English as a second language.

“The training is challenging,” says NCRA President Parker. “Court reporting cours es take two to four years. They demand a great deal of practice and highly-developed skills of dexterity and concentration. But for those who become guardians of the record, the rewards and sense of making a real contribution make it all worthwhile.”


Captioning on Your PDA

October 2005

A recent article by Dr. Dean Edell described the efforts of optical engineer Leanne West to make captioning more universally available in public venues. Leanne’s idea promises to provide captioning in any public facility that has a wireless network (which will soon be all of them!)


With a wireless network already in place, it’s a simple technical matter to stream captions over that network. The captions would be received and displayed by personal digital assistants (PDAs) which incoprorate the appropriate software. With some standards in place for both transmitter and receivers, something approaching universal captioning access is certainly achievable.


So where might this system be used? Virtually anyplace where people with hearing loss have trouble understanding announcements – sporting events, airports, hospitals, etc.


Subtitles vs Captions on DVDs

January 2001

If you haven’t yet watched a DVD movie, chances are you soon will. When you do, you should be aware that most DVDs offer two different “captioning” options.

One is the television closed captions that you are already familiar with. They are provided for people with hearing loss on DVDs, just like they are on television and VCR tapes. You turn these on and off with your television set.

The other option is subtitles, which are offered on most, but not all DVDs. They are generally available in multiple languages, and are really intended for foreign language speakers rather than people with hearing loss. (So why do they include English subtitles on a DVD with spoken English? Good question!) You turn these on and off with your DVD player, not your television set.

Closed captions and subtitles have different formats, and you may find that you prefer one over the other. But be aware that captions are intended for people with hearing loss, while subtitles are not. This means that captions provide information about background noises (phones ringing, environment noises, etc.), while subtitles often do not.